Page last updated at 19:27 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 20:27 UK
LA firefighters 'making progress'

Simon Higgs filmed this fire in La Crescenta, California

Emergency crews in California say they are optimistic they can control an intense wildfire that has been burning since Wednesday north of Los Angeles.

The blaze has spread over 190 sq miles (492 sq km), destroying 53 buildings and threatening 12,000 more - causing damage already estimated at $13m (£8m).

Californian residents have been sending their experiences, pictures and videos of the fire to the BBC. Read and view a selection of them below.


Photo: Jan Hill
Jan Fox took this picture at the top of her street

The air has been thick with smoke and ash covers my car every morning. The smoke has now drifted as far as Denver, Colorado. Firefighters set backfires here yesterday to starve the fire of fuel should it decided to return on its rampage. It really is like an angry, out of control monster.

We were saddened to hear of the loss of two firefighters over the weekend and many more have been injured trying to protect us. Our community loves and values its firefighters and it's a common sight to see residents, including myself, waving at the firetrucks and putting up 'Thank You' banners in shops and outside homes, or taking them boxes of doughnuts and iced teas and coffees. They are simply outstanding, working in horrific conditions.

Last Saturday the fire reached La Crescenta and our hillsides backing the community were alight in many, many places - in some areas flames reached 100 feet. Whichever way you looked, there was nothing but smoke and flame - it was like a scene from Dante's Inferno. At night it was even more terrifying with huge flames outlining and criss-crossing the hills. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Evacuations went into force and I had essentials packed just in case. Luckily we escaped that situation, though other friends did have to leave and go to our local evacuation centre.

So much wildlife has been displaced from its natural habitat that deer were running loose in the streets, desperate for water. Animal evacuation centres quickly filled up.

Photo: Alex Jackson
Wildlife displaced by the fires in the San Gabriel Mountains. Photo: Alex Jackson


Sunland is a neighbourhood in the northern most section of the city of Los Angeles. We're about a mile-and-a-half from the closest fire. Fortunately, we're outside the evacuation areas. A number of friends live inside, and have been uprooted.

Smoke is everywhere all the time. The smell is gradually diminishing now as the fires burn themselves out. It's no longer stinging the eyes or causing a dry cough.

A friend lost her home in Big Tujunga Canyon. We don't have words right now. Even though it was a known possibility, it still has an impact which leaves you in shock.

Helicopters attempt to douse flames

This afternoon I was helping other friends pack up. You evaluate what means the most, and what matters to you.

If you can put it in the car, it goes with you. Otherwise, you have to mentally let it go in the time it takes to pack the car and leave.

Tonight, everything is a lot calmer than last night. Most of the fires in the Sunland area are out, or burning themselves out. There's a new smell of wet, stale camp fire. It's not a particularly pleasant smell but it is a relief as it means there's been a little bit of rain somewhere near the fires.

I've been here for the Northridge earthquakes, the Rodney King riots, the fires and the floods. Those are the four seasons in LA.


I live in Altadena, about half a mile from the mandatory evacuation area at the foot of Mount Wilson.

I took this picture (below) from the front porch of my house, showing the fire on Sunday morning, but the conditions are the same every morning.

California fire
The view from Hans Van Riet's front porch in Altadena

At night the winds die down and the smoke lingers around the foothills.

The situation is very unclear.

I know that the fire has extended far to the west to Sunland and the fire crews are setting backfires there as we speak to stop the progress.

On the east side of the fire - which is on our side - the fire still progresses up hill to the Mount Wilson observatory.

But that is totally obscured by smoke and all we saw last night was an ominous orange glow.


I live in La Canada, where the fire started last Wednesday.

We are just outside the evacuation area, but close enough to have packed up important documents and mementoes, and have sent the dogs to friends outside the fire area.

California fires [Pic: Sylvia Avenessian]
The scene had the look of a volcano about it

We have been very lucky that there has been virtually no wind here - what turns our wildfires into firestorms are the big winds that California often experiences.

There is a bridge near La Canada High School - the evacuation centre - which became a gathering spot for the community for three days, because of the panoramic views of the mountains on fire.

We stood for a long time watching helicopters conduct water drops and dropping fire retardant.

We were reminded of lava flows in Hawaii, as the scene had the look of a volcano about it.

Sunday brought what looked like fog, but was really smoke, and it hurt to breathe.

That has cleared off here now, but the fire and smoke have moved east and west of us, and many thousands of people are still at risk.


We were ordered to evacuate at 0230 on Sunday morning and spent the next few hours in our car in a safe area a couple of miles from the fires

Since then we have been camping out with friends who have offered us space in their home.

I don't know exactly how close the fire came to our home, but it was close enough that we were forced to evacuate.

I can only get to within about a mile away from where I live. I cannot go up to the area as the roads are all blocked to stop looting.

The smoke is so dense in the area that you cannot see anything, so it's hard to be precise about how close the fire is.

The good news is only relatively few homes have been lost. I live in a well established neighbourhood with plenty of houses, but people who live further out are at risk of losing their homes.

Three people who refused to be evacuated from the National Forest are now trapped. Firefighters say it's too dangerous to go in there.

View of the California fires from the air
Geoff Hays took this picture of the station fire in the National Forest, San Gabriel Mountains, California "from approximately 20,000 feet"


California fires
Sylvia Avenessian took this picture of the fires near her home

I live nearby one of the roads that is on fire.

I have been told to evacuate and have everything packed up and ready go, but I don't want to leave.

Most people in my area have moved out but I and a few others have decided to stay behind.

My neighbour's back yard was on fire, but aside from that we have managed to stay out of the direct path of the fire.

But we are watching which way it is headed.

The firefighters have made us feel more comfortable.

We were nervous during the day on Sunday when the fire was at its worst but police and the fire services are calming things.


My boss and several of my friends have already been evacuated or have been told to be ready to go. Their streets and houses have been doused with retardant. I live about five miles south of the fire zone. It dominates the horizon even at this distance. By day there is an enormous column of smoke that resembles nothing so much as a massive thunderhead. By night you can see the flames on the mountains and the sky glows orange. The ash in the air constantly irritates your chest, nose and eyes. However, these are small discomforts compared to those suffered by the evacuees and by the incomparably brave men and women who are risking their lives day and night to protect us. I sincerely hope every one of them gets back home safely to their families.
Andrew Gray, Glendale, California (British expat)

Photo: Andrew Smith
"It was pitch dark at 1pm on Saturday." Photo: Andy Smith

I live in Acton, California, it's a small place, but there was a massive gathering of evacuees and then people with horse trailers were everywhere looking to help them out. Good willed chaos. At that point everything was fine at my house. Then the winds blew and the fire front started to head towards us. We never got an evacuation call, but as an expat Brit and twitchy, I got all valuables together ready to go. I'd like to say how magnificent the firefighters have been, particularly the aircrews. I went from full evacuation mode to calm in four hours thanks exclusively to their efforts. They also saved a wildlife preserve with elephants, lions and tigers. They are awesome!
Andy Smith, Acton, California

I live in Glendale, the fires are about five miles away. It's scary to wake up to nothing but smoke, cars full of ash, fire trucks going up and down at all times of the day. We have had many fires here as they are pretty common around this time of the year, but this one just seems bigger and harder to control than previous years.
Joselyn Lara, Glendale, California

Even though Glendale is a bit far from the major fires, there is a very real threat that it will continue this way, putting tens of thousands of people at risk. There has been a chilling cloud over the mountains for the past few days and the fire shows no signs of abating.
Henry, Glendale, California

Simon Higgs filmed this helicopter trying to control a fire in La Crescenta, California

The entire hillside is alight and the air is full of choking smoke. As far as the eye can see in both directions, it's just palls of smoke and flame leaping 100 feet into the night sky. Two of our brave firefighters lost their lives today. This will be devastating for our wildlife too.
Jan Fox, La Crescenta, California

I can see the smoke of the fire from my kitchen window. Last Wednesday the sun set red not from the weather but from the smoke from the fires. From the movement of the columns of smoke and their colours I can surmise the course of the fire. Since Friday the air has been filled with smoke and smells like burnt matches. In the hottest weather of the season we have to keep all the doors and windows shut in order to breathe.
Marian, Burbank, California

Wildfires have always been a part of life here in California - but the last few years have been pretty bad. We had to evacuate last year. It is a little unnerving being told to leave and not knowing if you are going to have a home to come back to.
Caryn, Paso Robles, California

I work in Pacoima, which is in Northeast San Fernando Valley. I am an asthmatic and Friday I had to leave work early because of the smoke. It wasn't so bad where I live but I woke up early Sunday morning with the smell of smoke in my apartment, so I would say it's getting pretty bad in the area. I hope that the weather will change soon so the winds will blow the smoke out to sea.
Therese, North Hollywood, California

I live about 12 miles south of the fire (as the crow flies) and I can vividly see the fire still marching its way to Mount Wilson, where loads of high-powered TV and radio transmission towers are located. The fires are illuminating the hillsides like lava flowing from a volcano, it seems. It is a most impressive sight.
Albert Jarak, Alhambra, California

Have you been given an evacuation order? Are you concerned about the spread of the fire? Send us your comments using the form below:

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